Dry or Die?

by | Apr 10, 2024 | 29 comments

Chris and I knew each other well. Five years in a row, he’d made a trip from the Rockies to the Appalachians, not so much for the wild trout that came to hand but for the conversations and the exchanging of ideas. Chris was one of the most accomplished anglers I’d ever met. With five decades of fishing and traveling, with an open mind and a bottomless bank of experience, he had a rare confidence on the water.

By now, Chris knew my area well too. Having spent a full week exploring these waters on every trip, Chris had his favorite access points. We always fished back-to-back days together, and I noticed that Chris liked the well-worn parking spaces.

At first, I thought he liked the easy access. In truth, I learned that he enjoyed the companionship and camaraderie of other anglers. He liked to strike up conversations.

It was a foreign concept to me.

Until Chris, I never knew an angler who would choose to fish among others if also given the choice to fish in solitude. (Mind you, I’m talking about strangers.) I learned that he liked the community of other anglers, and I saw how it made him happy.

As a lone traveler, Chris enjoyed the spontaneous friendship of random people, especially if they had a fly rod in hand. In the parking lots, I watched him meet and greet others coming and going, trading ideas and gifting flies as you might buy a stranger a beer at the bar, in return for a decent conversation.

In those parking lots, I always let Chris do his thing. I’d hang back and make myself busy, folding fleece layers, tying knots and spending a lot more time organizing gear than necessary. Behind dark sunglasses, I’d watch Chris shake hands and strike up a conversation with just about anyone. And he’d always return with something of interest. Only rarely would Chris walk back my way saying under his breath, “Well that guy is a dick.”

Chris liked to greet every person on the trail too. Whether walking in or out, he took a few moments with each angler. When I asked him about this compulsion, he told me that countless times he’d learned valuable information about access, about hatches or water conditions just by exchanging a few sentences with each passerby.

“Not my thing,” I told him. “But I get it. Honestly, I envy that ability, Chris.”

“It’s just talking to other people, Dom,” he told me.

Photo by Josh Darling

Today, Chris and I fished the first of our two days together. There were fewer anglers this morning, because the water was high. Real high. And although the Grannom caddis were mixed in with Blue Winged Olives, I hadn’t seen a rise form in two days.

Back at the truck, Chris had rigged a small black Circus Peanut featuring red highlights. I liked the choice, and I’d done well with streamers and nymphs in the last week.

With no one else in the parking lot, I felt the need to take a bigger role in conversation. We talked a lot about articulated streamers, what “big” used to mean for a baitfish imitation, whether the food forms had actually changed, and why our imitations of them had grown in size.

As we went through the last few steps of gearing up, a white Tahoe curved in, just a few slots away. When I shut the hatch on my 4Runner, Chris and I looked over to see a man in his fifties already in waders. He grabbed a nine-footer from his rod vault and hustled up the path.

“He’s coming our way, Chris.” I said.

“Plenty of room for everyone,” Chris replied. “There’s three miles of water up ahead with nobody in it, Dom.”

“Yeah, I know,” I told my friend. “But this guys really wants to get there first.”

When the man passed, I knew Chris would have an opener . . .

“What’re you fishing with, buddy?” Chris asked, with his characteristic tone of old friends.

“What?” The man seemed to balk at the idea that Chris would address him. While approaching quickly, he aimed to pass us at twice the walking pace.

“I’m fishing dry flies,” the stranger said, dragging out the d-r-y part with extra emphasis.

He then looked down to eventually stare at Chris’s black marabou and hackle mixed with red rubber legs and topped with lead eyes at the hook keeper.

The stranger smirked a bit and shook his head.

Then, out of nowhere, completely unprovoked and uninvited, he offered Chris something that he shouldn’t have.

“I don’t fish those. It’s dry or die for me.”

His tone hung thick in the air.

Unimpressed, I looked over at Chris and smiled. I knew something was coming. Chris was about to give it right back to our unwelcome stranger.

“Dry or die?” Chris repeated in jest. “Dry or die?!” Chris almost yelled it back to the stranger. “Go ahead and die then.”

That was all.

The stranger kept walking, and Chris kept puffing on his cigar.

A minute later, we watched the stranger dip into the brush and follow a shady path to the roaring river. As we passed, Chris chuckled and repeated it once more . . . “Heh heh. Dry or die. Yeah, right.”


There’s a segment of fly anglers who will never see streamers, nymphs or wet flies as a legitimate offering. That’s fine. Keep it to yourself.

There’s another segment of fly fishers who believe trophy hunting for big browns with big streamers is the only way to live out there. And everything else might as well be tweed hats and waxed catgut. That’s fine too. Keep it to yourself.

The majority of us are fishermen, just having fun, trying to catch a fish and then catch another one.

But if you spend enough days on the water, chasing trout with big streamers, you might get bored of it after a while — likewise with dry flies or anything else — and so you move on to the next thing.

Also, versatility comes from necessity. So when I see someone bragging that they haven’t fished a nymph in ten years, I think, “Wow, you couldn’t really do that around here and still catch trout all year round.” That’s a fact. And when I see the same person suggest that everyone else should give up nymphing too, I know they’ve never really given enough time to nymphing to fully appreciate it. That’s fine too.

It’s all just fishing.

The stranger’s sentiment of dry or die would have made for good conversation. Chris, the stranger and I would have laughed it off together, if it wasn’t delivered with the smirk, the arrogance and the disdain for Chris’s black and red Circus Peanut.

Frankly, that kind of judgment is absurd to me. I’ll never understand it. I’ll never get why any angler feels superior to another because of the fly or lure they’ve chosen. Who cares? Fish what you like, and have fun out there.

I fish dry flies every chance the trout give me. I fish streamers, nymphs (sometimes with bobbers) and wet flies on a fly rod. I fish worms, bucktails, Rapalas, in-line spinners and minnows on a spinning rod.

I’m just a fisherman.

I like to hang out with other fishermen.

This is Troutbitten.

Fish hard, friends.


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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. You should have used the butt of your rod to give him an oil check as he ran past you.

  2. Aggressive arrogance has no place in fly fishing, nor in the rest of life, for that matter. It bespeaks insecurity and, sadly, aggressive insecurity isn’t an oxymoron.

    However, I must admit I harbor a faint envy for certain kinds of purists, especially dry fly purists. If they’re gentle and kind about their obsession, if purity cleanses instead of leading to outrage at those who behave differently, it can, at least in some people I know, manifest itself in a kind of joyful attachment to art and simplicity. Maybe because I don’t have those qualities, I admire them when I see them in others.

  3. It’s so easy in today’s world to be “judgy.” Thanks for the gentle reminder to maintain an open mind and caring attitude. Keep up the good work. Enjoy the day my friend.

  4. I have to admit I feel that fishing with dry flies is superior to all other forms of angling. That is not the same as saying that dry fly anglers would be in any way superior to any other style of spin or fly angler. It’s too bad that angler did not have the humility to understand his method was inferior on that day.
    I have not quite reached a year round level of commitment to “dries or die” but I sense that I may be headed there in the future. I’ll plan to take my humility along on the journey.

    • You said, “It’s too bad that angler did not have the humility to understand his method was inferior on that day.” It’s actually inferior most all of the time! It’s a fact that 90% of what trout eat is below the surface.

      Why is dry fly fishing superior to all other forms? You ever try the Leisenring method? It takes a skill that is precise and patient.

      Again, why do you think it’s Superior? So the rest of us are ignorant fly fisher slobs in dirty pants rather than a tweed jacket and tie?

      • Hi Robert, dry fly fishing is the superior method of fishing for me, because it fits with what I enjoy doing the most. That has nothing to do with the skill, methods, or dress of myself or any other angler.

        Hunting for rising fish, reading rise forms, selecting flies, presenting the fly, all played out in view on the surface for the most visceral feedback. I enjoy fishing and catching fish in plenty of other ways, but they don’t beat dry fly fishing.

        A dry fly rides the boundary of the realm of water and that of air and bridges both. Fly fishing is magic because it gives us an opportunity to use tools to reach into the water and withdraw a fish into the air. When dry fly fishing works I am a happy magician.

    • Went on a trip some years ago from WI to MO. Did not know 2 of the guys.
      John said he only fished dry flies, which I thought at the time was pretty limiting. He said he didn’t care if he caught fish, he just really enjoyed that way of fishing.
      John and I split off and went to a different river one of the days. It was wide enough that we could go upstream together, each fishing our side. At one point, I watched him fish for a bit. Casting, working the drift, concentrating on his craft. He was good, and had the most serene smile on his face. Just a delightful time fishing with him. BTW, he also did youth fishing programs back home, and was a humorous story teller.
      Then there was Mike, who when I first untubed my rod, harrumphed, “Orvis never made a good fly rod.” There was more dumb stuff from him on the trip, but you get the point.
      A clear example of the best and worst of kind of people to TRAVEL with on a trip, because I DID NOT fish with one of them!

  5. I’ve experienced the same mentality from gear snobs. Try fishing with cheap rubber waders, converse high top wading shoes, a $50 Walmart rod/reel combo and matching vest. You would be amazed at how many people will blow you off and thrilled by the occasional person doesn’t.

    When I was younger, fishing was more like a competition. As I got older, it was more about fishing. I enjoy it now more than ever.

    • Dom, I don’t put myself in the same category as Chris but if someone approaches me I’ll engage. If it’s a new fly fisherman I’ll probe a bit and usually give them a fly I think us working for the day.
      I met a young, new FF guy the other day. He was catching wild brookies. He has only been fishing for two months and only wanting to catch wild trout. He showed me how he was matching the hatch then caught a may fly it the air to show me it matched what he was using. I asked him how he learned and he said YouTube. Wow. I did give home some pointers but he’s doing great. I hope I run into him again someday.

  6. Love when I bump into a friendly talker fishing. I spend most of my time relearning what I’ve forgot, which is plenty at 76. A friendly suggestion goes a long way to make my day. Love fishing, but they’re poor talkers. Again nice article

    • I am the Chris of your story, I love to chat all things fishing with anyone. Bank chit chat and in the river chat are two different things. On the bank – it’s all good. in the river should be reserved for pertinent info. It’s solitude time for many, unless of course you are with your buddy and you are watching your giant stone fly fluttering and yelling at the fly/ fish– EAT IT!!!!! Yeah good times.
      Most fisherman (with/without sideboob) go through phases throughout their lifetime, and temporarily hold true to it despite what the fish and river are telling them, it’s how we get educated. I turn 70 this month, age 5 my first brown trout on a worm with my dad’s leonard baby catskill, my last to date- a 12ish lb Steelhead swung on a fly the size of my first fish – which one created the bigger smile?
      P.S.– D.S. I feel I must send you some $$upport as you have made me a better fly guy as I learned how to incorporate that four letter word Euro into my repertoire on the Deschutes River. This will happen with my first SS check, Thanks brother-man

  7. Exactly! Closed Minded PreMadona Snobs!

    I have about 700 flies of just about every type. I mostly own wets, streamer, then nymph’s. Last and less than 50 are dry flies for good reason. I do keep a few on hand at every trip just incase trout go to the top. But a purest snob catches the least fish.

    I competed in archery regionally and nationally with 3 national records. So what! Shows I was very committed, but I learned to hate the sport because of know-it-all equipment snobs and only one way to do it and there’s was the only way! I quit a few years ago to stick to my 1st love in fly fishing.

  8. I love Chris’s approach to meeting other anglers because I am just like him. I have never met a stranger in my life. Sometimes you can learn things you didn’t know from other fly fishers and it pays off in the long run most of the time. I am a fly fishing guide in North Central Arkansas who loves to put people on trout. They pay me the big bucks so they can catch trout and after all, it is part of my job along with teaching them how to cast and fish for them. I am a nymphing guide who fishes a double fly rig using a drop shot system. The drop shot system is the best all-around system you can fish with most of the time. I fish a lot of nymphs, egg flies, and small streamers with this system. The system is deadly. The technique that an angler chooses to fish with is a personal choice. Live or die by the dry fly or large streamer patterns is a very foolish way to fish in my opinion. A wiggle on the end of my tippet is where the action is and I plan on keeping it there for myself and my clients.

  9. I expect part of that “Dry or Die” attitude is a left over or imitation of the outmoded and corrosive class system that was imported with fly fishing from England in the mid 19th century.
    That class system is dying in the UK now, supplanted by the serious money of the financial epicenter. But it still hangs out in pockets like trout and particularly salmon fishing.
    Personally. I gave up any aspirations to that attitude the first time I fished an egg pattern of worse “sucker spawn”. To hell with it I just want to catch trout on a fly rod.

  10. Dom,

    I am more in your camp vs. Chris. I enjoy driving to the river with friends and then fishing separately…often within sight of each other but I treasure the solitude. The only times I have spent extensive time talking on the water is when I am being guided by you and that is classroom time. I am there to learn and soak up as much as I can from you and catching fish is a bonus.

  11. It’s crazy, I get this same thing from Euro guys. Tight line or die. I just reply back
    Is that a spinning reel? Same style of fishing. They don’t laugh back. Interesting.

  12. Couldn’t have said any better!I’m just a fisherman too.

  13. My good buddy, the guy who introduced me to the beautiful pastime, was a dry-only purist. Since I didn’t know any better, I also became became a dry-only guy under his tutelage. Then I realized, as someone mentioned above, that trout are feeding below the surface 90% of the time, and I felt almost betrayed. I ditched the dry flies that instant. I started outfishing the teacher, which triggered all the standard digs/jokes. Then I ditched the bobber and really started doing well. Guess what? Now my buddy’s a tight-line guy too! I guess deep down, he really just wanted to catch more fish, too.

  14. Dom
    This is by far my favorite article from you as it hits home what my fishing partner and I agree on. All fishermen need to stick together and have fun. We both fish with spin, Flyrod, Tenkara and center pins.
    Keep up the great articles and attitude.

  15. I’d like to say that every technique has it’s own allure. Be it Dry Fly with accurate drag free floats, nymphing or tight lining, with it’s deadly sense and touch, Streamer Fishing with a big Trout/ big Fly concept? Also the way the Trout eats or takes in all of these techniques is unique and maybe that’s what turns us Anglers who prefer one or the other like..
    As for the parking lot … Ive noticed that out west conversation is more common and hospitable, sharing ideas and flys..Maybe more people from different parts of the country have something to do with it..People in the East not so much conversation..less guides and less conversation..
    One of the best Conversations I ever had was with a couple from Idaho that pulled up in the 3 Dollar Bridge parking lot in an old Pickup with Idaho plates. ..Sharing some ideas and thoughts , and it just happened..Sometimes things are just meant to be!
    Bottom line for me is just enjoy the journey!

    • Nice Tony, I’ve never fished out of the west but I’ll agree there are a lot of good visits here. In fact a few of my most memorable were also at 3$. One was a young couple from Europe who came to Montana to fish.

  16. Nice tale there. On the one hand there’s nothing like having a river all alone once in awhile but I love the fellowship along the way too. My main fishing partner ( my wife of 47 years) always teases me about it. “You’ll just yack with anyone.”
    I enjoy sharing a quick story or maybe a fly for someone needing a tip.
    And maybe the older I get the more I appreciate “we’re just fishermen.”
    Just last week a friend who owns our beautiful local fly shop wrote me a list of conventional bass baits to order for our local reservoir. Gonna give it a try.
    Thanks again for your great site.

  17. Unfortunate choice of words. For the vast majority of DFO anglers it’s a mere preference. I have never met a DFO angler who “feels superior to another because of the fly or lure they’ve chosen” or one “who will never see streamers, nymphs or wet flies as a legitimate offering”. Not sure why you want to paint us with the same broad brush as the “dry or die” guy in this tale. Chris shouting, “Go ahead and die then!” completely misses the point. DFO fly fishing has nothing to do with winning or losing, or fish counts, or being better than others, and we certainly don’t “die” on those rare days when we don’t get a single eat. Bit of a strawman here.

    • I have never met a DFO angler who “feels superior to another because of the fly or lure they’ve chosen” or one “who will never see streamers, nymphs or wet flies as a legitimate offering”

      Well Rick, I have. Hence the article. I also brought up that anglers of all types can have that attitude and it always sucks. I can’t hold your hand with every article and read the meaning and intentions into it. You just have to read what I actually wrote and not fill in the blanks with your preconceived notions about what you THINK I’ll write.

      Chris didn’t miss the point at all. You did.

      Cheers anyway.


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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